There seems to be a line of thought in the church that says sex outside of marriage is a small thing, just a peccadillo. It’s almost as if people think, “Yeah, it’s wrong, but God’s not that concerned about it – He’s got bigger fish to fry.” I’m not sure where this idea comes from. Perhaps people think that this was the stance that Jesus took in the gospels with prostitutes and other struggling sinners, in other words, that He didn’t really care about their sin. Actually, however, He cared a lot about their sin, and it was His love for the people themselves that drove this care and concern. Jesus was gentle and caring toward those involved in sexual sin, and yet we can’t forget the message He gave the woman caught in adultery: “Go, and from now on sin no more.” (John 8:11 ESV)
In reality, we need to think differently about the issue depending on who is engaging in it. There is a stance we take toward people inside the church who are caught up in this sin, and there is a stance we take with those outside the church. The Apostle Paul clarifies this…
I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality… 1 Corinthians 5:9 -11 (ESV)
Paul is expressing a version of an important truth: Never expect Christian behavior from non-Christians. But…what should we expect from those who claim the name of Christ? In short, we should expect from Christians a striving toward holiness – to be sure, a faltering striving toward holiness but a striving in that direction nonetheless. Where there is no striving toward purity and holiness, we must firmly and lovingly call the sinner to repentance. If they will not repent, we are to help them see that they are likely not Christians at all.
To more fully understand Jesus’ view of sexual sin, we need to look in another place besides the gospels: the Apostle John recorded the Lord Jesus’ words on the wickedness of sexual immorality in Revelation chapter 2…
“But I have this against you, that you tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess and is teaching and seducing my servants to practice sexual immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols. I gave her time to repent, but she refuses to repent of her sexual immorality. Behold, I will throw her onto a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her I will throw into great tribulation, unless they repent of her works, and I will strike her children dead. And all the churches will know that I am he who searches mind and heart, and I will give to each of you according to your works. Revelation 2:20 – 23 (ESV)
I think we can safely say that sexual sin is not a small matter at all to Jesus. In fact, there really are no “small sins”. Like other sin, sexual immorality separates people from God, and even more than that, Paul tells us that it carries a penalty that other sin apparently doesn’t…
Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. 1 Corinthians 6:18 (ESV)
In the end, we do well to remember that though Jesus speaks harshly about sexual immorality and those who partake in it, committing sexual sin of any type is not a bridge too far in terms of His forgiveness. For He is also the One Who died so that sexual sinners might know His love.
And as James Montgomery Boice once said, “When sin hit the high water mark, grace flooded the world.”